The Logic Behind the Unseemingly Illogical Orangutan Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue captivates readers with its gruesome and curious tail of two murders. Through the observations of two Parisian friends, we experience the dark details of Madame and Mademoiselle L’Espanaye’s demise: bloody and beaten corpses, one shoved up a fireplace and one decapitated. The Gazette des Tribunaux concludes “to this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the slightest clew” (Poe 123). Readers are left to wonder, who could have committed such a crime?
How did they gain entry into the home? Why did they kill Madame L. and her daughter? The narrator and Dupin inquired along the same lines, for they ventured to the Rue Morgue to observe the murders firsthand. Readers follow (or try to, at least) Dupin’s logic as he works out the crime for himself. Finally, we are to learn who the two mysterious voices were and who murdered the women. And then, orangutan. We are honestly expected to accept that an exotic animal carried out these monstrous acts? This is the result of logic and reason?
However, though the murderous orangutan seems a bit out of context to us, it is quite reflective of both the Romantic and Gothic literary trends of the time period, and fit within the molds of true detective fiction. Specifically, the orangutan is a mold of the romantic and gothic, representing both uncontrollable nature and the fearful unknown. It is also a logical explanation that ties up loose ends, thus fitting within the strict formula of detective fiction. The Romantic period that took the literary and artistic world by storm in the 18th and 19th centuries was a consequence of the French Revolution.
Ideas regarding the power of nature, nationalistic pride, the expression of emotion over intellect, and the goodness of humanity were significant ideas that became popular. Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue was written and published during the rise of Romanticism. By including a murderous orangutan in his story, so too does Poe include elements of Romanticism. The orangutan is, in and of itself, nature. It is not tamed or reasonable like a man. It does not listen, or obey commands. On the contrary, it is wild, strong and emotional, a beast of unmethodical action.
These qualities are similar in all of nature. It does not move with logic or reason, and it is not predictable or tame. According to the lecture, Romantics believed in “embracing the beauty of the natural (or supernatural, in some of Poe’s work) world at its deepest sense. ” The murderous orangutan is nature in its deepest sense: emotional and uncontrollable. The “beauty” of it is where the Gothic begins to mold with the Romantic. Gothic literature dealt with emotions just as Romanticism did. However, their divergence is seen in the Gothic’s emphasis on life and death.
According to the lecture, “Gothic literature sees life (and death) through a similar lens of heightened emotions. ” Thus, through the murder of two women, Romanticism meets with the Gothic, using the uncontrollable emotions of the orangutang to signify the emotions of the fearful nature. This becomes clear as the sailor describes the primate’s actions to the narrator and Dupin: “With one determined sweep of its muscular arm it nearly severed her head from her body. The sight of blood inflamed its anger into phrensy.
Gnashing its teeth, and flashing fire from its eyes, it flew upon the body of the girl, and imbedded its fearful talons in her throat” (Poe 138). This is exactly the kind of “heightened emotion” that Gothic literature sees death with. It is also demonstrative of the brutal treatment of women that is common in Gothic literature. Yet it’s brutality answers much about the inclusion of the orangutan. Through the creature, both nature and emotion conquer reason and logic. But despite the Romantic and Gothic influences, did Poe really have to provide an orangutan as the answer to the mystery?
In order to comply with the “locked room” structure of detective fiction, such a move was necessary. As The Locked Room stated, “the philosophical underpinnings of the locked room mystery are very much part of the nineteenth century’s preoccupation with scientific method” (Westlake 7-8). In The Murders in the Rue Morgue, we learn from the Gazette des Tribunaux that the door to the Rue Morgue was found locked with the key still inside (Poe 122), thus establishing the story as a “locked room” mystery.
In order to tie up this loose end, Poe needed to creatively plot a way in which someone (or in this case, something) could enter the home of the two women without actually “breaking in. ” This was accomplished through the orangutan, who according to the sailor, “clambered up” the Rue Morgue “with inconceivable agility, grasped the shutter… and swung itself directly upon the headboard of the bed” (Poe 137). The animal is a logical explanation as to why there was no break in at the front door, and how the two women were viciously murdered.
Therefore, the question of “why an orangutan? ” can be answered. Both Romantic and Gothic effects, as well as Poe’s need to provide a logical answer to the “locked room” mystery, were what aided in the involvement of the orangutan. Though it’s presence is at first unconventional, the animal’s association with the wildness of nature and eerie Gothicness make it a perfect fit for Poe’s story. Works Cited Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue. ” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Castle Books, 2002. Print. Westlake, Donald. “The Locked Room. “